- Silent Enemy of Leadership: Egocentric Bias
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July 12, 2023

Ah, the corner office. A bird's eye view of the hustle and bustle below, the reins of the company in your hands, and a hard-earned plaque on the door. But, my friends, beware of the hidden potholes on this path to glory. One such pesky pothole goes by the name of 'egocentric bias.' It's as silent and deadly as that leftover lunch lurking at the back of the office fridge.

All right, pop quiz time. Do you think you're a better driver than the average person? If you're nodding your head, congratulations, you're in good company. Most of us would say yes. This belief that we are better than average at most things is a classic example of egocentric bias. It's a cognitive hiccup that makes us believe that we are the norm, and that our perspective is shared by everyone else.

In the corporate world, this bias can turn into a treacherous pitfall. In the clutches of egocentric bias, a leader assumes their views, values, and ways of thinking are understood, accepted, and mirrored by their team. It's like believing everyone at the company party enjoys the same tunes as you do. Unlikely, right?

A study by Ames and Kammrath (2004) found that managers tend to overestimate the degree to which others share their opinions. This egocentric bias leads to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and, unfortunately, mistrust. Here's an analogy for you. Consider a baseball coach. The coach sees the game through their perspective, experiences, and strategies. But does every player on the field share the same view? Not necessarily. They have their positions, their roles, and their skills. The catcher's view of the game isn't the same as the pitcher's. This is just like a leader and their team. Different perspectives, different roles.

Ever worked under a boss who was all about 'intuition' and 'gut feelings'? They make decisions on the fly, expecting everyone to get on board without batting an eye. But what about the team? The data-driven analyst, the methodical project manager, and the meticulous designer. They need reasons, data, and insights. Without them, the 'intuitive' decision seems more like a shot in the dark.

Or, consider this quote from none other than Steve Jobs, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." 

It's a simple and powerful reminder of the perils of the egocentric bias. If leaders are continually projecting their views and not considering their teams' unique insights and perspectives, they're missing out on a vast reservoir of wisdom.

So how do we tackle this bias?

Step one is to realize that it exists. It lurks in the shadows, ready to skew our perception. Once you understand this, you're halfway up the mountain

Next, you gotta keep an open mind. Seek input. Invite opinions. Encourage debate. Foster an environment where different perspectives aren't just accepted but welcomed. It's about replacing "I" with "we." Only then can we combat the egocentric bias effectively.

Ultimately, the secret to effective leadership doesn't lie in projecting our perspectives onto others but in embracing the diverse perspectives around us. Remember, a leader's true strength lies in their ability to step outside their spotlight and let others shine. Oh, and I have an exercise to help teams figure out these blindspots, it's called Johari's Windows. 

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.